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Contemplations and Consumptions: Vol 11

Contemplations

In the new TV show, Tracker, Justin Hartley plays a character called Colter Shaw. His job is to track missing people and get a reward if he is successful. In the season pilot, Jack adopts what Annie Duke in her book, Thinking in Bets, refers to as probabilistic thinking. This is the philosophical concept that probability is the best criterion in the absence of certainty. Probabilistic thinking calculates the chances of a specific outcome occurring based on current information.

The opening scene of the pilot episode begins with Colter beside a female hiker (Jesse) in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, with a broken leg pinned by a rock. Colter tries to reassure her while assessing the situation.

Jesse: Can we just stay here?

Colter: I guess we could stay here, we could wait for a rescue team to come and airlift you out of here on a stretcher.  We are talking maybe five hours. Four, best case scenario? So if we stay I put your odds of survival, leg intact at 15-20%.

(Jesse starts crying)

Colter: But if you let me stabilise your injury and carefully carry you out of here, those odds for you and your leg go way up. 

Jesse: They do?

Colter: They do. I am talking about 90-95%. I am going to scoop you up okay?

Jesse: Okay.

Tracker Episode 1: Klamath Falls

In a later scene, Colter and a young boy are hanging onto a truck dangling over a cliff. There is a long drop into the river below. Colter has a gunshot wound in his arm and losing blood. The boy is frightened and not a good swimmer. The rescue team are on their way but Colter has a decision to make. 

Colter: We are going to be okay. It’s gonna be a while, though. They got to get boats in the water and we are looking at about half an hour. That is if this truck does not slide off in the meantime. Are you a strong swimmer? 

Boy: so-so

Colter: so-so is okay. I am a pretty strong swimmer. The thing is I got shot and I am losing a lot of blood, which means I am losing a lot of strength. Pretty soon it’s going to be impossible for me to swim. So if we let go now

Boy: Let go?

Colter: If we let go right now, I give my odds of swimming us both to safety about 95%. The longer we wait, the lower those odds get. You trust me?

Boy: Okay

Colter: Okay. We let go on three. You got to be brave, alright?

Tracker Episode 1: Klamath Falls

Colter uses his experience and expertise to determine the probability chances of success. You will notice in both scenes that he doesn’t offer 100% certainty. He offers a very high likelihood of success but never certainty based on his assessment of the situation.  

We live in a probabilistic world despite our craving for certainties, guarantees and absolutes.

The medical field employs a lot of probabilistic thinking because it realises that certainty is impossible in most circumstances. Medical diagnoses for life-threatening diseases are usually delivered in probabilistic terms to the patient. An oncologist, based on his experience and expertise, will tell a cancer patient that she has an 85% chance of survival based on her cancer type and stage.

Annie Duke said that “forcing ourselves to express how sure we are of our beliefs brings to plain sight the probabilistic nature of those beliefs, that what we believe is almost never 100% or 0% accurate but, rather, somewhere in between.”

In summary, probabilistic thinking acknowledges the roles of uncertainty, randomness and incomplete information.  These are all things we have no control over and to pretend we do will only lead to disappointment and disaster.

Consumptions

Burn Book: A Tech Love StoryI am a big fan of Kara Swisher and enjoyed this book. She is the co-host of the Pivot podcast with Scott Galloway which I listen to weekly. Burn Book is a part memoir and part tech history. Swisher has worked as a tech reporter for most of her career and had front-row seats from the inception of the Internet in the 90s to the present day.

 She chronicles in the book her encounters with tech royalty such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Travis Kalanick etc. 

She is the type who speaks truth to power and refuses to take bullshit from anyone no matter who they are. This anecdote of a job interview after graduation captures her personality then and now. 

Once, I interviewed for an internship at the Washington Post, and the editor said I was “too confident.” I’ve since come to understand that this is something men say to women to shut them up and undercut them. I was not going to let that happen. And so, I replied: “I’m not too confident. I’m fantastic. Or I will be.” I have always, always been like this. It’s hard to neg me. Those who do only encourage me to try to win even more.

Burn Book: A Tech Love Story

It is clear from this book how much Swisher loves her job and that passion has helped her to put in the time and effort to build a long and sustainable career. 

My two takeaways from the book are: 

  1.  Know yourself and play to your strengths.
  2.  Life is too short to do things that won’t matter in the long term.

More highlights:

The only certainty I can offer for those of us with meat flaps is that everyone’s analog life will end at some point, even if your digital presence will endure into the ages hence. This was, of course, the most important lesson I learned at a young age when my father died so suddenly. He thought he was headed for the big time and then he just fell over one day, and that has informed everything I’ve done since. Which is to say, I don’t have time to wallow. You don’t have time, either. Nobody has time.

Burn Book: A Tech Love Story

Silicon Valley had perfected the image of itself as a meritocracy and touted that as one of its greatest strengths—that anyone could become a billionaire. In fact, tech has always been a mirrortocracy, full of people who liked their own reflection so much that they only saw value in those that looked the same. They keep copying themselves, choosing slight variations on the same avatar template. Financial success was proof of their talents, which was like the old cliché of starting on third base and thinking you hit a home run.

Burn Book: A Tech Love Story

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Contemplations and Consumptions: Vol 10

Contemplations

I move from Sherlock Holmes in my last post to another detective in this post. Chief Liz Danvers is a fictional detective played by Jodie Foster in the new True Detective: Night Country. The show focuses on the investigation of the death of several research scientists in the fictional town of Ennis, Alaska.  

There is a scene in an ice rink where Danvers and Officer Prior try to figure out how the research scientists died.

Prior: “It does not make sense.” 

Danvers: “Yes, it does. We are just not seeing it. Not asking the right questions.” 

Danvers’ mantra throughout the show is about asking the right question.

Questions determine what we notice, what we see and what we pay attention to. 

Anyone can ask the wrong questions. Asking the right questions is a skill.  

Right questions unlock while wrong questions block.

Think of asking the wrong questions in navigational terms. Imagine a ship sailing from Liverpool to New York. If there is a one-degree navigation error; it is unnoticeable by sight but the ship will veer off course if this error isn’t picked up. This one-degree navigation error compounds over miles and the ship never arrives in New York. Wrong questions compound and lead the questioner further away from the right answers. 

The right question not only leads to the right answer but also generates more good questions.

 Peter Drucker, the management guru, said “The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers. It is to find the right question. For there are few things as useless- if not dangerous- as the right answer to the wrong question.”

Consumptions

📺 (TV Show)

Mr & Mrs Smith – Mr & Mrs Smith is about married assassin-spies who work for a covert organisation. The TV show is a complete reimagining by Donald Glover of the 2005 movie, and it is better for it. Donald Glover and Maya Erskine’s characters are plain opposites of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s movie characters. The movie focuses on passion and action, whereas the TV show focuses on the characters’ relationships and their flawed traits.

Jane (Erskine) has sociopathic tendencies, and John (Glover) has attachment issues. You get to watch two characters navigate the different stages of an arranged marriage. You also see the impact of work stresses as two hypercompetent married co-workers compete for their employer’s praise. Each episode features at least one guest star cameo, and this format worked well.

The season finale finished with a Schrödinger’s Cat ending. The characters’ fates are dependent on whether Amazon decides to renew the show or not. A smart move by Glover and Francesca Sloane (showrunner) given the fickle nature of TV studios’ decision-making.

Mr and Mrs Smith is a show that could easily have stood on its own two feet without the IP attachment to the Mr and Mrs Smith movie. But studios nowadays just have to shoehorn everything with an existing IP whether it is right for the story or not.

HBO did that with Night Country by forcing Issa López (showrunner) to attach her original story idea to the True Detective franchise. This studio move has unfortunately harmed the show rather than helped it in the ratings. The story worked on its own without a forced True Detective attachment.

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Contemplations and Consumptions: Vol 9

Contemplations

In my previous post, I referenced a quote by the comedian, Chris Rock, in which he likened comedians to detectives. I am going to pull on this thread today.

Sherlock Holmes is regarded as the greatest fictional detective, a character renowned for his exceptional observational and deductive skills. These are skills I am keen to improve in my work and life. I unpack below some of Holmes’ crime-solving methods.

On Observation

“You see everything.”

The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier

Holmes, in several of his cases, had his observational skills praised, like the statement above. He would remark that he only saw more because he had trained himself to notice what he saw.

This art of observation is demonstrated in a conversation with his famous sidekick – Dr. Watson.

I could not help laughing at the ease with which Holmes explained his process of deduction. ‘When I hear you give your reasons,’ Watson remarked, ‘the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though, at each successive instance of your reasoning, I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.’

‘Quite so,’ Holmes answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. ‘You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.’

‘Frequently.’

‘How often?’

‘Well, some hundreds of times.’

‘Then how many are there?’

‘How many? I don’t know.’

‘Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps because I have both seen and observed.’

A Scandal in Bohemia

On Data

“Data! Data! Data!” he cried impatiently. “I can’t make bricks without clay.”

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

Holmes couldn’t use his observational and deductive skills if he didn’t have access to sufficient data. He always resisted the temptation to form premature theories based on insufficient data. He argued that this led to twisting facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts.

Holmes’ method involved looking at the pieces of data critically to separate what was certain (fact) from what was conjecture (assumption). A fact is what we know that we know, whereas what we think we know is an assumption, which is an unverified opinion. He opposed guessing but ensured his theories and insights were always rooted in facts and not built on the quicksand of assumptions.

Though everything related to an investigation can be data; not everything is useful data. Holmes would turn the facts of the investigation over in his mind, striving to further separate vital facts (signal) from incidental facts (noise). His goal was to develop a theory that could reconcile all these vital facts and find that line of least resistance to solve the investigation.

He held his theories loosely until he had a high degree of probabilistic confidence in them as the best explanation of the problem. Holmes kept aside any outlier facts that didn’t quite fit the theory until the point where he could either disregard them or incorporate them into the theory as he acquired new information.

Consumptions

📺 (Documentary)

Pep Guardiola: Chasing Perfection – As a big Guardiola fan, I enjoyed this short BBC iPlayer documentary. It provides an overview of his career given its 62-minute runtime. There is little new information in this documentary for superfans like me, but new fans will get a lot more out of it. It covers his academy days at La Masia (Barcelona) to his recent treble win at Manchester City. There are interviews with his ex-Barcelona teammates, his ex-players (e.g. Ikay Gundogan, Manuel Neuer, Carles Puyol, and Robert Lewandowski), and current players (Phil Foden, Rodri, and Kyle Walker). It was amusing to hear the radio phone call-ins from Man City fans criticising his decisions during his first season at the club and after the 2021 Champions League final loss. Unfortunately, Guardiola didn’t participate in this documentary, thus diluting its impact. However, he must have given his blessings based on the number of people interviewed from his inner circle like Txiki Begiristain. I await the day, perhaps when Pep has retired, for a proper documentary limited series to be done about his career with his involvement. That will be the ultimate prize for his superfans.

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Contemplations and Consumptions: Vol 8

Contemplations

A Happy New Year to you and thanks for reading the first of 24 planned blog posts in 2024. 

My job as a user researcher is to identify actionable insights that help product teams make informed decisions. As a result, I am fascinated by the process of generating insights. This involves seeing and connecting the right signals in the data guided by the right questions. Insights transform our understanding of information and illuminate our frames of reference. 

Comedians are insightful because they are observant. The mundane human experiences that the rest of us discard as uninteresting are what comedians unpack for insights. They present these insights to us via jokes.

In the ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee’ book; there is a snippet of a conversation between Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock.

Jerry: Comedians have wisdom. Great jokes always have wisdom buried in them.

Chris: Right. They require observation. Eighty percent of your job is just paying attention to shit.

Jerry: I know, but it’s deep.

Chris:  Most people don’t pay attention.  We’re detectives. We’re always on the case.

Jerry: [laughs]

Chris: Always on the case! That’s all it is.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

We can learn a lot from comedians who are good at pushing beyond the ‘What You See Is All There Is’ (WYSIATI) bias to extract insights about human behaviour.

Consumptions

📺 (TV shows)

The Brothers SunThe fact that Michelle Yeoh is in this show is a good enough reason to watch this limited series. She plays the matriarch of the Sun crime family which is part of the Taiwanese triad. The show focuses on the relationship between her two sons (Charles and Bruce) hence the title.  Charles lived a violent gangster life in Taiwan with his father while Bruce who lived a sheltered life in Los Angeles with his mum is unaware of his family’s criminal ties. An assassination attempt on their father results in Charles heading to Los Angeles to protect his family. There is a shadow organisation intent on destroying the triad gangs and the Sun family has to deal with this threat as well as dysfunctional family dynamics. Both brothers grapple with the conflict of suffocating parental expectations and the desire to pursue their passions. Netflix released the enjoyable Beef last year and has started 2024 with The Brothers Sun. Hopefully, there will be more good Asian-American shows released this year.

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Contemplations & Consumptions: Vol 7

Contemplations


2023 has been a year of two halves. I was an employee in the first six months and a freelancer in the latter half.

I am looking for new freelance project gigs in early 2024, so contact me if you’ve got something cooking. I would love to chat.

The goal was to publish 24 posts this year, but I am ending the year with 20 posts, which isn’t too far from the mark.

I also changed the format of the blog mid-year to what you are reading now – Contemplations & Consumptions. This new format allows me to review and share interesting content I’ve consumed recently.

I was also able to finally break free from a creative rut that lasted for a few years, allowing me to pitch, develop, and launch a public creative project. See past projects here.

Some key 2023 highlights:

  • Neeto feature

I worked on several products as a user researcher at Satchel. One of the last products I worked on was a spin-off product called Neeto. This is a free educational quiz-creation tool.

The tool came out early in 2022 and was worked on by a small team. I collaborated on every feature on Neeto until the time I left the company. There was, however, one Neeto feature released this year which I had almost total ownership over – from conception to launch.

One of the biggest user pain points for non-Satchel teachers who used Neeto was that they couldn’t export their Neeto quizzes to either Google Forms or MS Forms. This meant we were failing to retain many of these users.

We couldn’t do much for them because Google and Microsoft didn’t provide an API integration that would enable seamless transfer of quizzes from Neeto to these products.

I spent a year monitoring Google and Microsoft Forms feature development for any relevant news of API releases. Early this year, I discovered that Microsoft had released an import Word/PDF quiz feature for MS Forms. This was the workaround we needed without an MS Forms API integration feature.

We already enabled users to export their Neeto quizzes as worksheets (Word or PDF). I tested this workflow and then got some power users to prototype the workflow based on my emailed instructions. They managed to do it but provided some feedback on ways to improve the workflow.

I pitched the Neeto product manager based on user feedback insights and made some recommendations on how we could implement this feature. He agreed with the insights and recommendations, and the final release was almost identical to my original vision and recommendation.

I even fleshed out my original prototype email instructions into the public instructional content on the Neeto help pages.

Pitched design version
Final released live version
  • Black Design Guild Retreat

Attending the Black Design Guild retreat in June was the biggest catalyst for what occurred in the second half of 2023. I was made redundant a week after I came back from this three-day retreat, but the connections I made at the retreat and the ideas I generated were impactful. You can read more about the retreat here.

  • Black Lionesses Bookmark Project

One of the ideas I generated at the Black Design Guild retreat was for a Black History Month bookmark project. I would later pivot my original design idea to the Black Lionesses concept to align with the 2023 Black History Month theme – celebrating/saluting our sisters.

I collaborated with Kent Libraries, and 4900 Black Lionesses bookmarks were designed and distributed across its 99 libraries. I also created a customised bookmark version for Knowsley Town Council. Kerry Davies, the first Black female to play for the England national team, contacted me to provide positive feedback about the bookmarks. Read more about the project here.

  • Nuffield Foundation Project

The second benefit of attending the Black Design Guild retreat was the connection I made with the organisers (Tayo Medupin and Amelia Woods). I approached them after I was made redundant to get their advice about freelancing, given their expertise in the area. They encouraged me to take the plunge and invited me to collaborate with them on a pitch for a freelance project, which we won.

I got to work with both of them on an “engaging Black researchers” project for the Nuffield Foundation. It was a fun project, and the Foundation was pleased with the final output, as were the Black researchers who participated in the focus groups.

Consumptions

A list of my favourite consumptions in 2023.

📺 (Movies)

📺 (TV shows)

📚 (Books)

🎧 (Podcasts)

Football 

Business/Technology

Thanks a lot for reading my posts this year and I wish you a great Christmas break. See you in 2024!

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Contemplations & Consumptions: Vol 6

Contemplations

I recently listened to a Longform podcast where the guest was Jesse David Fox, a comedy critic for Vulture magazine. Fox shared his unexpected journey into the worlds of comedy writing and watch collecting. His comedy adventure started when a friend took him to a Hannibal Buress show, sparking an obsession with the comedy scene and leading him to attend more shows and engage with related podcasts and readings. This passion and expertise would lead to a career at Vulture.

During the pandemic, he became interested in watch collecting. He started by watching clips of porn stars’ conversations on TikTok, which led him to YouTube for more content from them. These porn stars started recommending Antique Roadshow clips. He watched a particular clip featuring a Vietnam war veteran who brings a watch which he has never worn once but kept since the war. It gets valued at a million dollars and the man falls to the floor ecstatic. Fox is captivated and this leads to a deeper exploration of watch-related content on YouTube and the Internet.

Fox draws parallels between his interests in comedy and watches, noting how both fields appear mundane from the outside but are rich and complex upon deeper investigation. His expertise in both fields emerged from his obsessive consumption of relevant content about them. Fox’s story exemplifies the “Zulu Principle”.

The Zulu Principle was coined by Jim Slater. It’s the title of his financial investment book (2008) based on an insight he had as a result of his wife reading a four-page Reader’s Digest article on Zulus. He stated that if she had gone to the local library and borrowed all the available books on Zulus she could find, then she would become one of the leading experts in their city on the subject. If she had travelled to South Africa and lived in a Zulu kraal for several months and studied all the literature on Zulus at a South African university, then she would have gone on to be one of the top experts in the UK and possibly in the world.

Slater believed that the more you focus on an area, then, the easier it is to become an expert in that area. This expertise gives you a competitive advantage over others. The power of compound interest. 

Consumptions

The Killer (2023) – This is one of the best movies I have watched this year. Michael Fassbender portrays a contract killer who seeks retribution after a botched mission leads to his handler commissioning a hit on him as punishment. The movie highlights the professionalism, diligence, and patience required in being a hitman, featuring a lot of waiting. The killer is depicted as a predator, coiled and ready for the ideal opportunity and time to strike its prey. This film reminds me of a classic revenge thriller, “Payback” (1999). Fassbender’s performance is cool and detached, contrasting with Mel Gibson’s manic and raging portrayal in Payback.

My favourite scene is the dialogue between the killer and the expert (Tilda Swinton) in the restaurant, which is very Tarantinoesque. Swinton, in only a cameo role, is fantastic, making the most of her limited screen time. The film’s use of inner monologue is refreshing, as it allows the viewer to get into the killer’s head.

There are some humorous inner monologue descriptions of two cities visited by the killer in the film:

“A place with a thousand restaurants and one menu!” (New Orleans)

“Where else can you find so many like-minded individuals outside a penitentiary?” (Florida)

American Symphony (2023) – This documentary features the talented married couple Jon Batiste (musician) and Suleika Jaouad (writer). It focuses on the juxtaposition of Batiste organising a concert (American Symphony) while supporting his wife through chemotherapy. The film explores the grace and strength of the couple as they navigate the highs and lows of their lives. Jaouad had successfully fought leukaemia in her early twenties and was ten years cancer-free before it returned in 2021. She created a powerful TED talk about her first leukaemia experience, discussing her struggle to adjust to a new reality of being cancer-free. Watching the TED talk and American Symphony made me realise that the line between the healthy and the sick is as fragile as a spider’s silk.

🎶

World Music Radio by Jon Batiste – This is the first music album review to feature on this site, primarily because I don’t listen to as much music as I should. I must admit, I didn’t know who Jon Batiste was until I saw the trailer for the Netflix documentary “American Symphony”, which prompted me to check out his songs on Spotify. And wow!

World Music Radio truly exemplifies its name, featuring Batiste collaborating with international artists from Spain to Nigeria. I particularly enjoyed Batiste’s radio show-style disc jockeying outros on several tracks, where he announces and introduces the next track. This album is a fun, good-vibes pop collection. Kudos to Batiste for producing such an album, especially considering the challenges in his personal life. The album is a fusion of jazz, gospel, soul, funk, R&B, and hip-hop – a delectable musical medley!

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Contemplations & Consumptions: Vol 5

Contemplations

I recently watched a couple of shows (see Consumptions section below) that explore time travel themes. The protagonists travel back and forth in time, affecting their timelines. This reminded me of Choose Your Own Adventure books and a personal CYOA real-life story.

As a teenager, I loved reading Choose Your Own Adventure books, interactive works by Edward Packard. In these books, the reader, at the bottom of each page, is presented with two choices leading to more binary decisions with varied consequences. CYOA books have multiple endings and your job as the reader is to make the best decisions on behalf of the protagonist

It’s summer 2006, and I am at Carlisle train station, waiting for my connecting train to Newcastle, having just completed a job interview for a research assistant role at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN). My phone rings with a job offer from UCLAN, and at the same time, I receive a call from the University of Sheffield, where I had interviewed two days earlier. I ask UCLAN for 48 hours to decide and do the same with Sheffield when they offer me a research role. If Sheffield hadn’t called at the same time as UCLAN, I would have immediately accepted UCLAN’s offer. This crucial moment of simultaneous calls profoundly influences my decision, eventually leading me to choose Sheffield and turn down UCLAN’s offer.

Choosing Sheffield led to meeting my wife and influenced a significant branch of my life, including the people I met thereafter. A decision for UCLAN would have created a different timeline. Many decisions have shaped my life, but none as distinctly binary as that moment at Carlisle train station.

The poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost captures this sentiment. Here are the first and last stanzas of the poem.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveller, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

—–

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Consumptions

Bodies – A Netflix sci-fi limited series set in London, spanning four distinct timelines (1890, 1941, 2023 and 2053). It features four detectives investigating a case involving the same dead body, which is being transported through time to the same location in London.

The series excels in using a nested storytelling loop format, seamlessly transitioning the viewer from one protagonist in one timeline to another without overwhelming the viewer. The show creators also nailed the cliffhangers for the first few episodes to keep you engaged for the next one

Initially, I was reluctant to watch Bodies, but it proved to be far better than anticipated, especially given that it is adapted from a graphic novel of the same name. Graphic novels are notoriously hard to adapt to the screen, especially the small screen. Amaka Okafor as DS Shahara Hasan was a delight in Bodies. 

Loki S2 – Tom Hiddleston delivers another superb performance as Loki in the second season. Season 2 builds upon the solid foundation laid in Season 1, introducing new characters and developing the narrative arcs of the main protagonists. We see more of ‘He Who Remains’ (Jonathan Majors), portraying one of his variants from the 1890s. The season concludes with a sense of finality for the entire series, although whether Tom Hiddleston returns for another season remains to be seen.

Everything that Marvel released used to be a hit but now the misses exceed the hits.  I find most of the Marvel TV shows to be lacklustre and the best ones for me have been Loki and Moon Knight.

Nerdwriter’s excellent video essay discusses the challenges associated with the need to consume most of Marvel’s content to grasp its interconnected storytelling universe. This becomes problematic as the quality of Marvel’s content has been in decline.

Please share your favourite Marvel TV shows in the comments below.

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Contemplations & Consumptions: Vol 4

Contemplations

Bookmark Project Highlights

  • Kerry Davies and Mary Phillip, who are two of the pioneering Black Lionesses featured on the bookmarks, emailed me to express their gratitude for the work I had done and requested bookmarks for themselves and their loved ones. Kerry stumbled upon the bookmark project while browsing the web in relation to Black History Month. It was an honour to send the bookmarks to these remarkable women. This stands out as a significant achievement for me, considering the time, effort, and finances I invested in the Black Lionesses project.
  • A mutual acquaintance connected me with Councillor Vanessa Boateng of Knowsley Town Council in Liverpool. She expressed interest in obtaining some bookmarks for a Black History Month event at the town council later in October. I removed the Kent Libraries content and logo and replaced them with Knowsley Town’s own, creating a personalised Black Lionesses bookmark for her event. It was a great opportunity to expand the reach of the bookmarks.
  • I was invited to exhibit the Black Lionesses’ bookmarks at a London FA + Football Beyond Borders event to celebrate Black History Month. The event took place at Wembley Stadium, and it was my first time visiting the stadium. Despite the rain showers, it was an enjoyable event. I had the opportunity to discuss the bookmark project and my previous football projects with event attendees.

Read more about the Black Lionesses bookmark project here.

Freelancing

I am still actively seeking freelance user research work. If you or your organisation have any upcoming projects that could benefit from my skills, please do not hesitate to reach out. I would love to learn more and explore how I can contribute. You can also check out my LinkedIn profile here.

Consumptions

📺

The Continental – This three-episode limited series serves as a prequel to the John Wick film series. It delves into the origin story of Winston and Charon, set in the 1970s, and explores how Winston came to be the proprietor of the Continental Hotel. I personally enjoyed it, even though I’m aware it received mixed reviews. The series incorporates similar action sequences from the John Wick franchise. it was refreshing to see a diverse cast, particularly strong diverse female characters.

The series also employs a storytelling technique reminiscent of “Breaking Bad,” where a scene is introduced at the beginning of the episode, whether it’s a flashback or flash-forward, seemingly unrelated to the immediate scenes. However, the significance becomes clear by the end of the episode, adding depth to the narrative. As a fun fact, it’s revealed that Charon hails originally from Nigeria.

Big Vape: The Rise and Fall of Juul – This four-episode limited series on Netflix, which explores the rise and fall of Juul, will interest product development nerds. It chronicles the journey of two Stanford graduates who initially created a vaping product with noble intentions but witnessed its corruption due to pressure from investors focused on growth and profit.

Juul, an e-cigarette product, was originally conceived to provide smokers with an alternative to traditional cigarettes. It was so slickly designed that it earned the tag “the iPhone of e-cigarettes.” However, a company established to disrupt the tobacco industry eventually adopted similar youthful lifestyle marketing tactics and secured substantial investments from Big Tobacco.

Ultimately, Juul was a nicotine company masquerading as a tech company, reminiscent of the trajectory of WeWork in the real estate sector. Both companies achieved high market valuations assigned to tech companies, only to crash and burn.

📗

Game of Edges – I’m a passionate fan of books on sports analytics, so I couldn’t resist picking up “Game of Edges” when I spotted it in the bookshop. A strength of this book is its coverage of analytics across various sports, including basketball, baseball, football, and American football. Many books in this genre tend to concentrate on one specific sport. While I was already familiar with several of the case studies, particularly those from the world of baseball and football, I was delighted to discover some new insights from basketball and American football.

Sports teams employ data analytics to identify inefficiencies within the industry to gain a competitive edge over their rivals. It has evolved into an arms race to secure the most brilliant data scientists who can create models harnessing the power of machine learning to interpret the data.

Schoenfeld contends that a negative consequence of this arms race is the erosion of sports as an entertainment spectacle for fans, as coaching and organisational decision-making become overly reliant on statistical models.

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Contemplations & Consumptions: Vol 3

Contemplations

On Endings and Beginnings

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end –

Semisonic (verse from the song – Closing Time)

It’s a new season and the start of Q4 – the final quarter of 2023. Q2 finished with redundancy at work (ending). While in Q3, I started and finished two new projects (beginnings/endings).

These were the Black Lionesses bookmark project and a freelance research project for the Nuffield Foundation.

I now find myself at the start of Q4 looking for a new freelance gig and a new creative side project. I have been reaching out to folks and brainstorming new ideas but no joy so far.

The challenge is avoiding getting sucked into a vortex of anxiety and uncertainty. These are the ups and downs of being a freelancer and seeking new beginnings.

Consumptions

📺

The Creator – I went to see this film at the Odeon cinema with my wife. I haven’t been to the cinema in ages so it was good to watch a movie on a big screen with an audience. I enjoyed the film. It featured strong performances from John David Washington, Madeleine Yuna Voyles and Alison Janney.

The film focuses on America’s war against AI because of a nuclear explosion in Los Angeles due to an AI error. The battleground is ‘Neo Asia’, a continent, which is peacefully co-existing with AI.

The protagonist is Joshua, an AI sceptic, who bonds with an AI child (Alphie) during his quest to find his wife. He spends the film seeking redemption to atone for his betrayal. I am glad to see John David Washington doing another smart, layered sci-fi movie after his standout role in Tenet.

Best scene dialogue

Alfie: What’s heaven?

Joshua: It’s a peaceful place in the sky.

Alfie: Are you going to heaven?

Joshua: No.

Alfie: Why not?

Joshua: You gotta be a good person to go to heaven.

Alfie: Then we’re the same. We can’t go to heaven. Because you’re not good. And I’m not a person.

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Celebrating our Black Lionesses: A BHM Bookmark Project

Staplehurst Library

I mentioned in a previous post about a side project idea I was working on. This idea was developed at a summer Black Design Guild retreat. 

 I am pleased to announce that the idea is now a product available from October at all Kent Libraries to celebrate Black History Month (BHM). 

I wanted to combine my love for books and libraries with football for a Black History Month project based on this year’s theme: ‘Saluting Our Sisters.’

This summer’s Women’s World Cup was my creative inspiration. I thought of the England national team known as the ‘Lionesses’ and wondered about the identities of all the Black Lionesses that have ever played for the team.

I had the BHM bookmark idea in June, went to two nearby local libraries to discuss it with their librarians and got positive feedback. 

One librarian encouraged me to contact a Kent Libraries’ Service Development Officer with the idea; she was receptive and passed it on to senior leadership who commissioned it.

I approached a few designers for bookmark design advice. One of them said: 

“Don’t try to overthink a bookmark. These things are generally very simple designs.” 

This became my design philosophy for the rest of the project.

The first task was to research the names of all the Black Lionesses. I had to trawl through this Wikipedia page containing all England’s national female players to identify those with Black ancestry. 

This involved clicking each listed name to be directed to the player’s Wikipedia page but not all players had a Wikipedia page. I found 21 players who met my criteria. 

I then discovered a blog post on the JJHeritage website that had the names of all the Black female players from 1972 until 2021. The Football Association (FA) only started to assign official appearance caps to female national players in 1972. The blog post revealed two additional players that needed to be added to my list of 21. 

I collated these 23 Black Lionesses in a spreadsheet but was keen to ensure that I didn’t accidentally exclude anyone. This led to contacting The Football Association (FA) to verify my data. The FA team confirmed that only these 23 Black Lionesses have played for the national team so far. 

Kent Libraries had some requirements before they would be willing to issue the free bookmarks to their patrons. The inclusion of the Kent Libraries’ logo, the logo of the Black History Month charity, a QR code to a curated list of Black-authored books, a link for patrons who couldn’t access the QR code and a short text. 

I had to incorporate all these requirements with the names of the 23 Black Lionesses and a Black Stories, Black History image in a 51 x 152 mm bookmark. 

I presented the 23 players’ names as a word cloud. The biggest names in the cloud were the first players to play for England because I wanted to emphasise their pioneering legacy. 

I sent the final design version to the Kent Libraries’ team and they gave me the sign-off. I then ordered a sample of 5 printed copies from VistaPrint to see what the prototype looked like.

I shared the printed prototypes with the Kent Libraries’ team and they were still happy with it. 4900 copies are on their way to 99 Kent Libraries. 

Visit your local library in October If you live in the Kent area to get the BHM bookmark. I will suggest you do it as soon as you can because the libraries have limited copies.  

I have three goals for this bookmark:

  • It creates an awareness of the 23 Black female players who have played for the England national team.
  • It serves as a commemorative Black History Month product that lasts beyond October. 
  • It inspires some football-loving Black girls who see this bookmark to one day join this list. 

This has been a fun project to work on. I want to thank the Kent Libraries’ team and everyone who provided support throughout the project. 

Epilogue:

I have written about some highlights and impact since the bookmarks went live in October in this post here

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